The unfortunate consequence of my Zweiday festivities was having to explain my bandaged hands. I eventually settled that I’d burned them while cooking. There were many holes in that explanation, but luckily, Tunic wouldn’t be sharing the truth. For him to deny me he’d have to mime the whole thing out and I doubted he would do so. I did feel a little guilty shrugging him off again, but Cade had come calling after Tunic returned me to my home. I couldn’t very well tell Cade I had spent the day with Tunic.
The visit was short; Cade informed me that he was going to attempt one more journey before the summer’s close. His father had been up late every night for weeks finishing half a dozen more garments. Then he begged a kiss in case I failed to see him before he departed.
Cade, as I mentioned before, has this way of flattering that I cannot resist. “Please,” he pouted, moving his hand to my cheek.
“Nope,” I resisted.
“I may perish on the road,” Cade reminded me as he always did. “Or what if illness befalls me? I may need the reminder of a fair maiden’s kiss to grant me strength.”
“Or you could just seek a faerie,” I teased.
“No, a faerie will not do. A faerie will not provide me with a reason to live. But your beauty inspires perseverance.”
I giggled at his ludicrous notions, but fell prey to them anyways. I kissed him on the cheek and bid him safe travels. As soon as I’d done it, I felt the oddest sensation. Instead of the normally pleasant sensation that accompanied a kiss, I burned with regret.
“Just the cheek?” Cade continued.
I didn’t want to play his game anymore, so intent was I on searching why I felt guilty for kissing Cade’s cheek. “Yes,” I was firm in my pronouncement.
Cade misinterpreted the hardness in my voice. “Have I done something wrong?” He asked.
I waved him away with my hand and moved to return home. He blocked my passage.
“A real kiss,” he insisted.
“No,” I told him. “Not today.”
He grabbed my wrist and tried to steal it anyways.
“Cade, don’t,” I squirmed.
He looked angry or frustrated. I couldn’t tell in the light.
“It’s my hands,” I lied. “They are giving me such agony. I need to change the bandages.”
He practically flung my wrist away. I knew I’d regret making him so furious after this weird sensation of guilt passed. Despite what I felt, I didn’t want to lose him. “Next time,” I promised. “When my hands aren’t burned.”
“Whatever,” he grumbled.
“Be safe,” I returned weakly. He let me pass this time. I retreated to my bed refusing to deal with the newfound confusion plaguing my mind.
Though I had to explain to my parents about my hands, I did not consider them a trial. Ladd would be my second trial. Or, so I thought. He was already in the storeroom by the time I arrived at the shop the following morning. Thankfully, before we even had the opportunity to speak, the door opened and a traveller entered. “Welcome,” I greeted the unexpected visitor. “What can I help you with?”
He was an average looking man but he wore a frantic expression. “I need ground harpy feathers. Do you have ground harpy feathers?” he bounced back and forth on the balls of his feet as though ready for flight. His hands folded into each other over and over.
“No, I’m afraid we do not.” I did my best to keep my shopkeepers smile fixed.
“Arg!” the traveller exclaimed, “I knew I came too late.”
“Too late for what?” I asked. My interest piqued by this nervous man.
“Too late for what!?” the customer echoed. “Too late to get harpy feathers. How else am I supposed to hide my trail from the monster? Oh! It probably has my scent already. If you have no harpy feathers I must be off!”
“Wait!” I shouted in my most commanding voice. “Do you have news of the monster?”
“Do I have news of the monster?” he echoed me again. It was quite rude, but I endured it in silence. “If by news you mean to ask if I have seen the swath of destruction left by that behemoth? Then yes, I have news of the monster. Black Rock is in ashes, not a soul survived. It has probably scented me already, I shall be next!”
“We are three weeks ride from Black Rock,” I reminded him.
“And only a week’s flight,” he countered.
“Does the creature have wings?” I asked. Though we all knew of the creature, no one quite knew what it was. Legends said it destroyed dozens of settlements hundreds of years ago, but not much else was known of it.
“Does the creature have wings? Of course, the creature has wings!”
“What is being done to stop it?”
“Stop it?” the man burst into a sudden fit of maniacal laughter. “You can’t stop it.”
“Surely something must be done about it,” I insisted. I moved from behind the desk and stood before him. “You know something about the creature’s habits, you could help educate those who are valiant enough to face the creature if you will not do so yourself.”
“I care not for the fates of others. I must flee before it slays me,” he cowardly retorted. “If there are no harpy’s feathers here, I must fly.”
“What would the harpy’s feathers do anyways?” I inquired. “Perhaps I can get some ordered for you.”
“The creature hates harpy feathers. If I sprinkle them in my footprints it will be loathe to follow me.”
“Are you sure that is right?”
“Of course I am sure! I cannot believe you have sold all your harpy feathers! I knew I was too late.” Without another word, he was gone from our shop. I opened the door and watched as he galloped down the main street.
“Ignorant fool,” I muttered under my breath.
“What was that?” Ladd asked, coming from the stock room.
“Apparently the monster has struck again. Drove away that poor fellow’s last wits.”
Ladd nodded without comment. I was so accustomed to a similar response from Tunic I thought nothing of it. I should have remembered that silence from Ladd meant he was nervous.
“Can you watch the front?” I asked Ladd, disappearing in the back before he could respond. I told my father about the strange visitor and his request. I thought perhaps we ought to get some harpy feathers ourselves but my father disagreed.
“There have been a dozen or so incidents like that this past week,” he informed me. “Superstitious cowards have been crawling out of the woodwork asking for peculiar concoctions to ward off the monster.”
“Do you think maybe we ought to think about preparing for it too?” I asked. If the stranger were right about the monster being able to fly here in a week, we would have no warning if it came this way. Cade had promised us a year of peace. Obviously he heard wrong.
“Nonsense,” my father dismissed the idea. “Everything we know is here.”
“But aren’t our lives worth more than the shop and our home?”
He hesitated, “Of course… but we have no real evidence of the monster to begin with.”
“What about the destroyed settlements?” I snapped.
My father shrugged. “Well, we don’t know for sure the monster will come here.”
“Then, perhaps we ought to find out?” I asked. “If this thing could, indeed, destroy us all, I would suspect action is necessary.”
“And I have no doubt that others, more capable than we are in the process of doing just that.”
“Have you heard of any others?”
“No, but that does not mean there are none. We are a small community on the outskirts of a large world. There are people in the big cities that are paid for that sort of work. They will deal with this monster, if there even is one.”
I was not satisfied with this remark. What if everyone developed the same attitude as my father? Then no one would stop the monster and it would have free reign of the world.
“I have to get back to the front,” I announced.
If Ladd noticed my mood, he did not comment. He disappeared in the back, presumably to help father catalogue the herbs we had just received.
My temperament was not permanent, however, for I realised it was about time for Tunic to be coming. In fact, I expected his presence at any moment. I contemplated what I would say to him, this being his first visit since we had become secret friends. Would I say my typical shopkeepers greeting or alter my customary script?
I contemplated the consequences of making my friendship with Tunic known and after much deliberation decided that perhaps, I could introduce him to the others. After all, Cade should have left by now, and he was the biggest detractor. By the time Cade came back, the others would be accustomed to Tunic and Cade would have to hold his tongue.
An hour had passed and I begin to worry about Tunic. He had always been prompt. Perhaps he was nervous coming today. After all, I had bestowed a kiss on him before his departure yesterday.
Another hour passed and I took to peering out the window every few minutes. I had to leave the counter and walk across the room to do so, but I hardly noticed the effort.
After another hour, I worried that perhaps I had been too forthcoming with Tunic. Maybe he resented my affectionate gesture.
When another hour had passed, I wanted to crawl under the counter. Either Tunic was grievously injured, perhaps dead, (there was no one to check on him if something terrible should befall him, after all) or he resented me now. I was friendless. If my loneliness did not kill me, I’d die a sad old maid.
At closing time, Ladd came from the back and took note of my desperate mood. “What’s the matter?” he asked quietly.
“I fear on behalf of Tunic,” I admitted. “He did not come today. He has never missed a day before, correct? He has always been prompt. Something must have happened to him.”
“Tunic was here on time,” Ladd replied without concern for my welfare.
“What!?” I gasped.
“While you were in the back, he came. You can check the ledger if you don’t believe me.”
I did check the ledger. Sure enough, in Ladd’s garbled writing was the notation for Tunic’s weekly order. I’d missed him! I looked to Ladd with the intention of saying something, but he had snuck out the front door. My father came from the back, handing me my day’s wage and dismissing me. “I’ll be late for dinner, tell your mother,” he informed me.
“Need me to stay?” I offered, though I hoped he would decline.
“I doubt you’d be much help with your hands,” he reminded me of my malady. “Go on.”
“See you tonight father.” I hastened out of the shop hoping to catch Tunic before he began his journey home. I had no idea what he did after he left our shop so I had to search for him methodically. I went to the butcher, the blacksmith, and the tavern (though I doubted I’d find him there). I queried Oleg at the bakery if she had seen Tunic; I knew he occasionally bought bread there.
“He was in earlier, dearie,” Oleg informed me. I sighed in defeat. I guess he had left town already. “I think he goes to see Mrs. Shara sometimes. Perhaps check there.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
Mrs. Shara was the oldest lady in town. She lived by herself north of our shop. She was the only resident to live on the east bank who did not have a shop. I had no idea why Tunic would visit her though. She was a cantankerous old biddy who always insisted everyone was trying to cheat her. She could cause an awful stir when she wanted to. I dreaded speaking to her and hoped that I’d pass Tunic on the street. I could wait for him on the road perhaps, but if he had already departed then I would have wasted my evening standing in the street.
I reached Mrs. Shara’s door and mustered my courage before knocking. The door was answered promptly and I stammered out my question, “Is Bramwell here?”
Mrs. Shara evaluated me with a narrowed eye before responding. “He’s out back.”
“May I see him?”
It took her a moment to decide, I supposed she was determining if I was attempting a scheme, but she eventually guided me to the back. I would have walked around the house, but she had a high fence around her garden.
“Don’t you take anything. I’ll know if you take anything,” she warned me.
“Don’t worry,” I assured her. “I just wanted to see Tunic… err… Bramwell.”
We found him in the garden. He was hunched over her cucumber patch pulling weeds and ripened vegetables. His back was to the door so he was not aware of my presence.
To my consternation, Mrs. Shara smiled. “Such a good boy,” she remarked. “Been helping me in my garden since that terrible turn of my ankle”
I had no idea that’s what he did his Dreiday afternoons.
“Bramwell,” she called out in a louder voice, “Why don’t you quit for the night.”
He turned to respond with a wave and looked surprised to see me. He turned back to his work intent on finishing what he’d started. A couple minutes later he hoisted his two pails, dumping one in the compost heap and bringing the other to Mrs. Shara’s kitchen. We followed him into the house. He pulled off his grimy gloves and stowed them in a pouch on his belt.
“You’ll come next week right?” Mrs. Shara asked. “The beans will be ready then, I suspect.”
Tunic smiled and, to my complete and utter shock, gave her a one-armed embrace. This was Mrs. Shara! She was the type of lady that all effort was made to avoid even accidentally touching.
Tunic gestured for me to exit the house and I obeyed dumbly. “Until next week Bram,” Mrs. Shara bid him farewell. I got a dismissal too, but of a different sort. “If I notice anything missing young lady, I’ll be to your father about it and I’ll make sure he whips you for it.” I could not fathom how to respond to the antipodal farewells and so chose to ignore my own.
I shook my head, hoping to regain my senses. “I was not aware that you did that.” I pointed back to Mrs. Shara’s house. “And I had no idea Mrs. Shara was capable of being considerate to anyone. I thought she’d lost her soul.” He didn’t respond to that and I felt guilty for being so rude. I decided to progress the conversation. “I wanted to see you,” I told him. “A Vierday without seeing Tunic would be tragic.” It was the first time we had walked openly in town together. “And I know what you are thinking; a day without seeing me would be abysmal,” I chuckled at my own vanity.
He shook his head and sighed.
“What?” I pretended to act offended.
We continued in our normal playful manner until I spotted Addie and Ladd. I had deliberately led Tunic in the direction of the Rafferty shop. “Come Tunic, I want you to meet my friends.” I prompted him forward.
“Good evening Addie,” I curtseyed. “Good evening Ladd,” I curtseyed again. “I’d like to formally introduce you both to Bramwell.” I did the return introductions for Tunic. Addie curtseyed, though in a robotic fashion. Ladd offered Tunic a firm handshake. I was pleased that he could feign courtesy when he was so obviously hesitant.
When the formalities were finished, Addie pulled me aside. “What are you doing?” she hissed.
“Look Addie,” I began, “I know your brother bears a grudge against Bramwell, but it is cruel to continue isolating him.”
“Cade’s going to do something regrettable.”
“We’ll make him accustomed to the idea eventually,” I figured I could summon up some feminine charm to make things work. Perhaps I’d use that kiss as a reward for good behaviour around Tunic. I beamed at my cleverness.
It occurred to me that this might be the thing that fixed my problems. I would no longer have to hide my friendship with Tunic. And with Tunic around, I would not be missing Ladd as much (and Ladd wouldn’t have to stay in love with me any longer). It was the perfect scheme.
And then Cade walked through the door and sighted Tunic. “Cade,” I gasped. “I thought you had departed!” I’d said the wrong thing. It sounded like I was hiding a tryst.
“I was delayed,” Cade spoke with gritted teeth. He fixed Tunic with a murderous glare. “Some fool came into town spouting about the monster. Father got worried about my leaving and encouraged me to stay.”
“That’s unfortunate,” I replied automatically. “Do you know how long?”
“My fate is pending on father’s whim. He has lost his wit thanks to these rumours. If I don’t leave soon, I will miss travelling weather.” Though their wagon was one of the finer ones in town, it still had leaks in it. Cade couldn’t travel in rain for fear of damaging the product.
“Father thinks we should abandon Kennbridge and flee the monster,” Addie added. She had taken a few discreet steps away from her brother.
“The monster isn’t coming here!” Cade wailed. Clearly, it was an argument they had been having for longer than the past few minutes. As Cade’s fury turned to Addie, I chanced to look at Tunic. He looked ready to flee. I probably should have asked him if he wanted to meet my friends before thrusting him into a situation with the volatile Cade. My perfect plan was about to unravel.
Things got worse. Cade stepped off his porch and towards Tunic. “What is he doing here?” he asked no one in particular.
I felt responsible for Tunic so I spoke up, “I requested his accompaniment.”
“Tchhh,” Cade hissed. I wasn’t sure if I should step between him and Tunic or stand aside. Alas, my decision was made too late. “You’re the reason she’s holding out on me, aren’t you.” He smacked Tunic’s chest, pushing him backward. “You proposed to ensnare what is mine and assumed I would yield without a quarrel, eh?”
I couldn’t believe this was happening. “No Cade!” I screamed. “You have misjudged the situation. We’ve merely become close acquaintances.”
No matter what I said, it kept making things worse. Poor Tunic was shoved again, this time by both Cade’s hands. He was yearning for a fight. I’d seen him do this before when an out-of-towner had flirted with his sister.
“Cease your aggression immediately!” I insisted. He didn’t listen. Tunic kept absorbing his assaults without returning them. I couldn’t stand it. He should at least defend himself! I felt my resolve fade and I knew I’d do anything to stop him. “Cade!” I commanded his attention (and, by the sheer volume of my tone, most of the east bank occupants). “If your accusations were true, would I do this?” I grabbed his collar and pulled his head down to me. I’d never kissed him the way I did then. It was awful. It was violent and messy and… I strive to forget it.
Tears dampened my cheeks when he finally pulled away. “That is exactly your way,” he retorted. “You deceiving, manipulative harlot,”
I staggered back. That sort of language was foreign to Kennbridge. I’d never heard anyone blatantly accused of something so abhorrent.
Cade grabbed me again, intent on… whatever it was, I squirmed out of his grasp. He managed to get a hand down on me though and shoved. I tumbled to the ground. I crawled on my hands and knees away from his grasp.
Addie threw herself at her brother, “Stop this!” she cried. “Stop this right now. You are disgracing the family!”
He flung her off himself with relative ease. Ladd was at her side in an instant. He considered Addie with concern but when our eyes met, they were hollow. Desperate, I turned to where Tunic had stood, but he’d fled when I’d grabbed Cade.
We heard steps from inside the garment shop. Rafferty emerged from within. “Inside. Now. Both of you,” he commanded. His voice was moderately quiet, but he held such authority in it that both his children obeyed without further prompting. Addie stifled her tears and Cade gulped as they were imprisoned in their home. The door slammed and we heard nothing from the garment shop.
It was too much for me to bear. I began whimpering so loudly, tears pouring down my face, that the whole of Kennbridge likely heard me. Ladd, my dearest, oldest friend, didn’t come any nearer to me. I hid my face in the dirt, wishing I had the strength to move further.
The garment shop’s door opened. Addie came running out and Ladd met her. “Father says I have to silence her.” Addie pointed to me. “Or he’ll…” she trailed off ominously.
I was making too much of a spectacle for the proud Rafferty. He wanted me away from his property. Never mind that his son had put me in this position.
Ladd and Addie advanced towards me without mercy. “Come on Nari,” Ladd said, “We have to get you home.”
I fought as best as I could, but he was stronger than I. He hoisted me up and carried me like an infant. “Put me down,” I insisted, squirming like the child he thought I was. He made it across the bridge before I’d worn his patience out.
“You have no one but yourself to blame for this one,” Ladd snapped after I’d managed to break his grip. I tumbled to the ground as his arm lost hold of me.
I couldn’t believe his mercilessness. In less than a week, he’d gone from loving me to hating me.
In ten minutes, I had lost everything. I’d kissed Cade in the streets and been called a harlot. The whole town would be talking about it tomorrow, if the news had not already started to spread. Mother and father would be shamed. Tunic had abandoned me. Ladd hated me. Addie glared at me without speaking.
This would be my last night in town. I was ruined here. I sprinted away from Addie and Ladd. They did not even bother to give chase. They knew I had nowhere to run.